For the past three years, Nonyameko Mdladla had to save a portion of her two children’s grant money to be able to send her only son to initiation school. Sadly, he disappeared on his first night in the initiation hut.
After three years of depending on hand-outs and family members for food, Mdladla (48), from Qelana village outside Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, had managed to save enough for her son to go to the initiation school.
“Ntsikayomzi [meaning ‘pillar of the house’] (21) went to the initiation school on November 29 but, sadly, he disappeared on his first night. According to an ikhankatha, a traditional nurse who takes care of the initiate, he went out of the initiation hut and ran, but they don’t know where he ran to,” Mdladla said.
On the night of her son’s disappearance, her husband heard dogs barking and, when he went out to find out what was happening, he met with the ikhankatha, saying the umkhwetha (initiate) had run away.
She said they could not afford to send him to initiation school when he was 18 because they did not have the means to do so at the time.
“In these past three years, I had to save a portion of my children’s grant so that we could give him a proper umgidi [an initiation celebration]. It was a difficult period for us as the family, as we depended on hand-outs and assistance from other family members.”
She said the family had been left with many unanswered questions as to what really happened that night.
“Where did he get the energy to run away, as he could have been in pain?” she asked.
“What bothers me is that ikhankatha was in the company of another person, whereas he was supposed to be the only one looking after him, especially on the first night. I don’t know what they could have said to him that made him run away.
“I also heard that, when the boys were distributing invitations to families, there were talks that he had finally given in to the idea of going to the mountain,” she said.
She said the talks had left the family shattered, especially because it was the family situation that had forced Ntsikayomzi to wait for such a long time to go to the initiation school.
“Ntsikayomzi is my only son out of five children. We haven’t had a decent sleep as a family since his disappearance. The villagers assisted in looking for him, but with no luck. We even went to hospitals and mortuaries looking for him. Every day we pray for his safe return.”
Mdladla disputed reports that her son was found hanging in Mbolompu village near Langeni Forest outside Mthatha.
Last year, it was reported that Lindokuhle Debruin, an initiate in Gqeberha, disappeared without a trace after he had left his hut to go and relieve himself. It was his last day at the initiation school and, according to the family, he has never returned.
The spokesperson for the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Mamkeli Ngam, said the department was aware of the incident and that the disappearance of initiates was not a common occurrence.
Last week, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC Zolile Williams said there were 11 initiates who had died during the summer initiation season due to dehydration, health complications related to under-age circumcision and comorbidities, among other reasons.
Warrant Officer Majola Nkohli said police were searching for the missing initiate and they were investigating the circumstances surrounding his disappearance.